Travel Diary: Surrendering to New York City


This past September in New York was still summer hot, so I got to experience the city when it was extra sewer-y. To enjoy Manhattan, I learned to surrender to it. If the subway’s boiling and your makeup melts and you’re sweating through your clothes, roll with it. If a giant truck turns on a narrow street, blasting dust and sand (sand??) on your face, deal. If it’s raining and your umbrella breaks, keep your cool and duck into a cab or the subway. Because in return, New York rewards your patience with excitement, or, at the very least, interesting experiences.

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t so keen on going to New York again. I had just returned from London a couple of weeks prior, and to go to another crazy city, one I’ve been to multiple times before, and deal with the pollution, the expense, and the congestion sounded exhausting. I went because it was Rosh Hashanah, the Kabbalistic new year. It’s a time to plant positive seeds for the new year, and I prefer to do it with other Kabbalah students from around the world. This year, the event took place in Manhattan. I went a few days before the cosmic new year to hang out and to do things I can only do in this city.

In hindsight, my week in New York was one of the most fun trips I had in 2017. Every day I did something interesting. I had so many laughs with old friends, new friends, and new-ish friends I had gotten to know better this time. The food was amazing, as always. And oh yeah, I did some spiritual stuff too.

East Village / Lower East Side

I stayed with my friend Jeannie, who lives in the Lower East Side (Thanks for hosting me!). I got to know this neighbourhood better, as well as East Village, which is trendy with some parts still very gritty and old-school New York. When I’m walking down the street, wafts of urine and garbage hit me every other block. To be fair, I think the smells were more detectable because of the heat wave that week. Jeannie likes to point out gross stuff on the sidewalk: “Ew, a dead rat… Gross, a condom with brown stuff in it.” Ahhh, the real New York, the authentic side I’ve been longing to experience.

I find it interesting that Alphabet City is still known for being sketchy (Avenue A is for Assault, B is for Battery, C is for Crime, D is for Death… stay out of Avenue D), while blocks over, you’ve got a Whole Foods (= gentrification), and even more west in SoHo, 20 million dollar lofts. I guess we have that kind of class disparity in Toronto too, but the contrast is heightened in New York, as with everything here.

East Village is very fun to walk around on a nice day. We wandered into Sugar Sketch, an Italian bakery. It happened to be their store anniversary so they gave us free mini cupcakes (I got the pumpkin). I ate my first knish (spinach) from Yonah Shimmel Knish Bakery sitting on a park bench, and I felt very local. Jeannie and I bond over our love of tea, and she introduced me to Physical GraffiTea, a tiny shop with what seemed like hundreds of tea options.

Good food can always be found in New York. I had the most filling brunch at Cornerstone Cafe—baked eggs with spinach with iced coffee. Clinton St. Baking Company seems to have long lineups on most days. I managed to eat there a couple of times when the lines weren’t bad. They’re famous for their pancakes. I ate a stack of the blueberry pancakes for breakfast—the pile was huge, and I ate everything. Yes, they are that good. Pause Cafe is also amazing. It’s a tiny place, so I did take-out a couple of times. Try the Acai bowls. Oh, and I always eat New York pizza when I’m here. Joe’s Pizza is one of the best.

I didn’t bother bringing any high heels because you can’t get around walking in this city. I don’t usually pair running shoes with dresses, but sometimes it’s faster to walk to a destination, so you might as well be comfortable doing it. 

The legendary CBGB music club in L.E.S. is closed, but there is a Blondie mural across the street at Saxon + Parole as a tribute. The music scene back in the day must’ve been wild here.

Shopping

I can’t come to New York and not go to SoHo. All the cool ethical brands are stationed here: Reformation, MaiyetEverlane, etc. I make sure to hit this neighbourhood first, as if it’s a chore or something to get the shopping out of the way. It’s just a fun place to browse and check out the latest in fashion, even if I don’t get the Supreme hype.

I stumbled upon something awesome at The Vintage Twin pop up store on Broadway: their JEANius bar. I had been looking for a pair of high-waisted vintage jeans, but not really because it’s a pain to go to shops and try on jeans all the time.

Well, my “JEANius” seemed really confident she would find the perfect pair for me. I just told her the style and colour I was looking for. She didn’t even measure me and pulled out a couple of options. The second pair was the one. She was good. Scarily good. My jeans are boot cut Levis from the 1970s. I’ve been wearing them a lot if you haven’t noticed.

At Reformation, I bought a red top and high-waisted skinny jeans. Now I have a good selection of high-waisted jeans in my wardrobe. Back home, I have limited options for ethical/sustainable jeans, so it’s nice to be able to go into stores and try them on. New York is a good place to do that. They have 3×1 and Nudie Jeans in SoHo too.

I saw a bunch of people lining up at the Glossier Showroom. Glossier is a very hyped Millennial beauty company that’s not completely natural but not toxic either. I decided to line up and check out the products in person since they’re sold online. The line to pay was way long, so I was relieved I could walk away empty handed. Their branding is fun, but I have my skincare products that work for me already. I thought their Cloud Paint was really cute, but I tried on a couple of colours and didn’t feel the results were unique from the blushes I already own. Some people swear by their Boy Brow, but my natural Jane Iredale brow gel does the same thing.

An ethical fashion store I hadn’t visited before was Brother Vellies, a sustainable shoe brand handmade in Africa.

I tried on a few things but I was good and didn’t buy anything I wasn’t 100% sure about. The sandals were so fun, and I was tempted.

The store’s a little out of the way in the South Street Seaport district. I’ve never been to this area before, and it’s quite charming. It’s a historic district near the pier, with a few strips of cute shops, trendy restaurants, and the South Street Seaport Museum. Some parts are still under construction, but it seems like it will be a fun public hangout—relaxing compared to the rest of Manhattan.

Since I was already in Lower Manhattan, I figured I might as well visit The Oculus at the World Trade Center. This futuristic space is actually a train station, although it feels like a mall with all the stores on different levels. Or a spaceship. Either way, it’s spectacular.

Shake Shack was not far, and that was also a first for me. I have a soft spot for cheeseburgers, and with one of their milkshakes? A lethal combination.

Spiritual Stuff

Aside from ringing in the Kabbalistic new year, I wanted to take a Body & Brain class and have a ThetaHealing session while I was in town. Both of these spiritual healing practices were introduced to me through the Kabbalah Centre. What I really like about the Kabbalah Centre is how they’re bringing in different healing modalities and connecting with other spiritual organizations for joint classes and workshops.

I went to a Body & Brain yoga class at their midtown center. From what I understand, their form of yoga and Tai Chi, which originated in Korea, uses rhythmic movement to release tension and blocked energy from the body. We don’t have these classes in Toronto, which is unfortunate because I would really like to do more of this on a regular basis and incorporate it into the morning yoga I do at home. They have courses online though. I learn better in classes, but maybe I can get on that.

Since I was here, I booked a private session with Master Geum. She worked with me one-on-one on some movements and asked me if I knew I had shallow breathing. I would take a couple of short breaths and then a deep breath to make up for it, which I was not aware of. She gave me some exercises to do to breathe better and to open up the chest. It’s been a few months now and I’ve been making a conscious effort to breathe through the diaphragm and not my chest.

ThetaHealing really changed my life. I knew a little about it before and had heard good things, so I booked a session. How I would describe ThetaHealing is that it’s like therapy, except the healer actually fixes the problem by replacing your negative belief with a positive one—instantly.

The process is nuts. I came in with a couple of issues that were bothering me. My healer asked me some questions, did a reading on me, and connected events in my life that I had no idea were related. I ended up balling halfway through the session. I came out feeling lighter, but also shocked by the revelations. I wanted a drink.

It was early afternoon, the perfect time to go to a bar, be a lone drinker, and brood a bit. That kind of vibe. I Yelped and found Oscar Wilde, this crazy bar (more on that later) which was nearly empty at that hour.

I still do ThetaHealing via Skype with my New York ThetaHealer.  The technique is founded by Vianna Stibal—read her book if my explanation doesn’t make sense, or try a session yourself. You can go in for physical or emotional healing. It might sound crazy, but it works for me. How many ThetaHealing sessions someone needs really depends on the person. Some people do one or two sessions, clear a belief or fear that has been holding them back, and they move on. Me, I continued because different issues kept popping up that I wanted to clear. Things that used to bother me don’t anymore. I’m going to take a beginner ThetaHealing class this spring to properly learn the technique myself.

Fun

So back to Oscar Wilde. What a crazy bar. If you like a good literary-themed bar that cost $4 million dollars to renovate, check it out. I loved the bars in NYC so much, I made a separate post about it with my 3 favourite favourites.

After I had that lone drinker moment there, I knew I wanted to go back. So on another day, I grabbed a couple of friends, swung by Baked by Melissa, bought a 25-pack of their most popular tiny cupcakes, and went to Oscar Wilde for happy hour. Cocktails and cupcakes—not sure what can top that.

Before Rosh Hashanah started, I tried to lure people to grab a drink with me. Darn these wholesome people with their spiritual focus. Nobody wanted to sneak away with me, but I think it was the way I phrased the invite. Instead of asking if anyone wanted to “get sloshed” with me, I should’ve inquired if they wanted to have a “pre-Rosh Hashanah celebratory drink.” Anyhoo, I missed a lecture (totally worth it) and got another lone drink at The Bar at Baccarat. I loved this place. Read more about this extravagant bar in my NYC bar post.

My bar tales are not done. I met up with Alden Wicker from EcoCult at the Crosby Bar in SoHo one night. That was the day when it rained and my umbrella broke, and I really surrendered to the city. I had just come from my Body & Brain yoga class, where I knocked over a vase in their reception, so I was stripped down in yoga wear, drying from the rain, and had basically given up on myself. Alden came from a sustainable fashion event in the area and brought an industry friend along.

We only had a couple of cocktails, but they were pretty loaded, so we both got tipsy—and hungry. After Alden’s friend left early, we kept the night going by grabbing some food and beer. We ended up at by Chloe, where the guac burgers and beet ketchup were surprisingly good.

Alden is a frank, no-BS kind of girl, so it’s fun to kick back and shoot the breeze with her. I read EcoCult all the time, and she keeps it real. It’s impossible to be 100% sustainable and zero waste all the time. Alden takes action on these issues, while not beating herself up for not being a perfect eco saint. I find that kind of balanced outlook inspiring.

As for non-bar-related fun, I finally went to MoMA. I’d been meaning to go the last few times in New York, but the timing never worked out. The paintings I was most excited to see were Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (portrays 5 nude prostitutes). Also nice to see a Rothko. Now I just have to go to the Guggenheim and the Whitney on my future trips.

I’ve never spent more than a week at a time in New York, so I wonder how I would hack it as a local. Would the daily grind and hoards of people push me to my breaking point? Would I still find excitement around every corner despite the garbage piled high on sidewalks? Well, let me bask in the belief that as long as I surrender to it, New York loves me.

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